The Tour arrived in the Alps on Saturday. The Tour de France is really a series of races and battles within a race. There are riders that are good at riding out on their own and competing against the clock, riders that are good at giving it everything they have over the last few metres and racing for the line and riders that can ride up mountains. Very rarely do you get a rider who is good at more than one of these disciplines; and if you do they are the ones that will most likely to go on to win the yellow jersey and the race overall. So, for the first week of the race the sprinters have it pretty much to themselves as there are no hills to speak of, but it is when The Tour hits the mountains that the action begins. For the sprinters it is a case of giving 150 percent just to stay in the race. Many don't make it and retire or are eliminated and for them the race is over. For the hill climbers it is their chance to make their mark. However, the mountains are funny places. Some days you feel great and all the hours of training pay off. Your legs feel good and as you round the corners you have just a little more strength than the others and the mountain air spurs you on to the top. On other days your legs feel like lead and you can't get over the feeling of imminent death and collapse! In the Alps you could see the agony on the faces of those in trouble (on the flatter stages you can sometimes disguise your pain but the mountains do not take any prisoners). There is something about the high alps that tests your body to its limits and if there is anything there it will find it. The first symptoms of my connective tissue disease appeared the week after returning from a week skiing in Le Grand Bornand and my mothers illness was triggered in a similar fashion two years later. This year the first stage in the Alps finished in Le Grand Bornand after a 16km climb over the Col de la Columbiere. My brother was there to watch the riders as they sped past on the descent to the finish. After he had to visit my sister-in-law in hospital. The mountains had claimed another victim and she had been admitted the day before with what turned out to be appendicitis and peritonitis.
During my first trip to the Alps 18 months after my illness I cycled up the Col de la Columbiere (from the easy side). It took me two hours and I felt like I was going to collapse at several points but when I reached the top I did feel like I had gone some way to beating my own mountain curse.